Science Fiction and Fantasy Mini-Reviews

Here are three more science fiction and fantasy mini-reviews, brought to you by the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.  Since it’s pretty difficult to review books that are part of series, I’m keeping these short.  I recommend all three if you’re looking for good, but not too heavy, summer reads.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman:  This book came to me with a lot of fanfare; I  picked it up at a “share your favorite book” event, and I couldn’t wait to read it.  For those who haven’t read it, this is a book about the Antichrist, Satan, and the apocalypse.  So many people LOVE this book, I’m almost afraid to say anything about it.  So, here it is.  I really liked it and I loved the humor.  But as a whole the book left me a bit underwhelmed, given all the hype.  In fact this may be the first novel by Gaiman OR Pratchett that I didn’t love every minute of.  Why?  One issue for me was too many character switches.  I kept getting disoriented because the plotlines switched so often (“wait, where did we leave Anathema?  What is Adam doing now?  What’s going on with Aziraphale?”)  There’s an awful lot in this book and it may not have gotten my full concentration. Without question, this book is terribly clever.  I’m not religious, and I was happy to read a book that pokes a good amount of fun at religion.  I guess I just didn’t 100% enjoy it.  I did enjoy reading the stuff in the back about how Pratchett and Gaiman came to write the book, how their joint writing process worked, and how they’ve signed “a delightfully large number of paperbacks that have been dropped in the bath, gone a worrying brown color, got repaired with sticky tape and string, and in one case, consisted entirely of loose pages in a plastic bag.”

A Gathering of Shadows: I’m loving this trilogy by V.E. Schwab. I pick up a lot of fantasy series, read the first one, and then decide I don’t care to commit myself to more.  But everything about this trilogy feels new and different.  I love the characters, Kell and Lila, and I love the use of the four Londons.  Book 1 was excellent but really disturbing.  Book 2 is less disturbing and more character-focused.  I like them both equally (which is not often the case with second books), although I did find Lila a bit less sympathetic.  Without going into detail, she makes decisions that are pretty unreasonable and selfish.  She’s still a great character though – at least she thinks about her actions and why she does them.  If you like fantasy and for some reason you haven’t read these books, I definitely recommend them.

A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers: This is another Book 2, but it’s more of a standalone sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.  I didn’t gush about Long Way like most readers did; something about it just didn’t work for me.  For one thing, there were a lot of characters and I didn’t feel I got to know anyone very well.  Long Way was interesting science fiction from a woman’s perspective, and it explored the kinds of moral and social issues I appreciate.  But the issues Chambers explored in Long Way felt a little “done already” (it reminded me of Star Trek), and I find her writing a bit too self-conscious.  I liked Closed and Common Orbit more than the first book, because it focused on two specific characters, and because I find artificial intelligence (AI) issues interesting.  I was bothered by the treatment of Lovelace, the ship’s AI, in the first book, but Orbit explores interesting issues related to AI autonomy, an AI’s physical shape/structure, whether an AI needs to have a specific function, and who should be allowed to rewrite its code.  Can AI feel emotion, and can a human really develop a relationship with an AI? I still found Chambers’ writing a bit self-conscious, and despite all these interesting AI issues I found the Jane story-line much more readable than the Sidra story-line.  But it all worked together nicely.

Those are my science fiction and fantasy mini-reviews for the month. If you’re in the 20 Books of Summer challenge, how’s that going?  I’m at 7 read and 4 reviewed, so there’s a way to go, considering we’re about mid-way through summer.   My July reading is off to a very slow start, but I’m looking forward to reviewing Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild, which blew my mind and deserves a full review.  So good.  Happy summer reading, everyone!

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